The City Council's Parks, Recreation, Education and Arts Committee will meet 3 p.m. Nov. 29 and discuss whether to ban smoking along city greenways.
Signs adorn South Chickamauga Greenway, telling users park rules and how far they've walked.
But the Chattanooga City Council is looking at putting another sign on the trail: "Thank you for not smoking."
"Anywhere there's a trail in the wooded outdoors, there should be nonsmoking," said Councilman Russell Gilbert, chairman of the Parks, Recreation, Education and Arts Committee.
The council could look at an ordinance that bans smoking along South Chickamauga Greenway in two weeks. Some proponents of the ban say it should even extend beyond the South Chickamauga Greenway to all city greenways.
Larry Zehnder, the city's parks and recreation director, said he wants more meat in the ordinance to ban smoking on all greenways.
"It should be on all of our trails," he said. "Especially on greenways. It makes sense."
The action was spurred after Councilman Peter Murphy said he noticed some people smoking while on the trail a few weeks ago. He said leaf litter lay on the ground and the flick of a cigarette butt could have ignited a fire.
"You're basically laying it down in the woods where the leaves may or may not be wet," he said.
The new South Chickamauga Greenway could be particularly prone to fire, Murphy said, with a long wooden bridge that hugs the side of South Chickamauga Creek and at one point crosses it.
Leaves littered the bridge Thursday and a white cigarette butt lay in the middle, smashed against the wood.
Murphy said he thinks banning smoking on the bridge would be a minor inconvenience and signs would be enforcement enough.
"I think it would be posted extensively," Murphy said. "I think 99 percent of the world would comply with it."
Murphy also proposed banning smoking along the Walnut Street Bridge, which is made up from tip to tip of wooden planks.
Other city greenways affected would include a new portion of North Chickamauga Greenway just off Hixson Pike and trails in Greenway Farm.
The county has already banned smoking at Enterprise South Nature Park, said Ron Priddy, the county's director of parks and recreation.
Banning smoking in the park was an easy decision, he said.
"There's not enough water or fire hydrants in the park," he said. "It's also 2,800 acres of woods, so if there ever was a fire, it would be hard to control."
One location that would not see a ban is the Tennessee Riverwalk. Zehnder said he would have to talk to county officials about a nonsmoking ban in that area because it's jointly owned by the county and city.
Priddy said the county has never considered it, but would be open to discussion.
Chattanooga Fire Chief Randy Parker said he has found that high-pressure lumber, such as that used on the South Chickamauga Creek bridge, is not treated to be fire resistant. But he said the problem in the area is not necessarily the wooden structure itself, but its remoteness.
The fire department has some all-terrain vehicles to get into areas surrounding greenways to fight a fire, Parker said. But there have not been many instances of fires along greenways or other city-owned wooden structures, he said.
"We've had one fire on Walnut Street Bridge, but that's been a long time ago," he said.
If the bridges were to burn, the city could easily find the money to restore them, said Danny Thornton, interim director of general services.
Walnut Street Bridge is insured for up to $6.35 million and the bridge at South Chickamauga Creek Greenway would be covered by a $1 million policy that covers all other facilities that do not have individual coverage, he said.
"Anything not a high-profile location, we have blanket coverage," he said.
Bob Saylor, the city's parks director, said the cost of the bridge on South Chickamauga Creek Greenway is around $200,000.
While parts of the bridge are made of metal, the flooring is wood and the supports holding up the bridge are wood, he said. A fire along the supports would be devastating, he said, possibly causing a collapse.
"I hope and pray that never happens," he said.
Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...